Healthy choices for at-risk patients is foundation of Cancer Prevention Program
By Meghann Finn Sepulveda
Education may be the key to prevent cancer.
The team of experts at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert’s Cancer Prevention Program encourages lifestyle strategies by offering nutritional counseling and stress reducing techniques, in combination with genetic testing and recommendations for people with low to high risk of developing cancer.
The American Cancer Society reports that nearly half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy choices that include not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating right, keeping active, and getting recommended screening tests.
The first step in the fight to prevent cancer is to determine the risk.
“We try to evaluate patients who are considered at high risk for cancer based on genetics,” says Santosh Rao, M.D., medical and integrative oncologist, Banner MD Anderson.
Patients of the Cancer Prevention Program are also evaluated by a team of medical professionals consisting of an exercise physiologist, registered dietitian, integrative social worker and psychologist.
The program is funded, in part, through philanthropic donations and grants.
A series of classes, held in the Wellness Center, such as restorative and chair yoga, healing movement and breath, and meditation are available for patients designed to reduce stress by caring for the mind and body.
“Research tells us that physical activity is good,” Rao says. “Yoga can relieve stress and is gentle on the body. Meditation helps with mental clarity by focusing on breathing techniques.”
For newly diagnosed patients to survivors, the program has something for individuals at all stages.
“I had support services that helped me get on my feet, stabilized and prepared me for my journey after treatment,” says Phyllis Gagnier, 73, of Gold Canyon. “I have benefited from every resource available and have been successful in restorative healing of my mind, body and spirit.”
Quarterly cooking classes feature recipes that include cancer fighting ingredients, and are taught by the hospital’s head chef. The team is also developing a smoking cessation program to reduce lung cancer.
“These services have greatly helped me reprogram my brain so I can listen to and appreciate my body,” Gagnier says. “I’m living my life more mindfully.”
Gagnier, a two-time cancer survivor, has started writing again and works out to build strength and flexibility. She is hopeful others can benefit from these healing techniques.
“I transformed fear into healing and I know I have the support whenever I need it.”
Individual consultations and group support classes are also available for survivors and their support teams.
Community education, outreach
Several community outreach programs are in place to educate and support children and adults.
A current school-based initiative includes a partnership with a local Phoenix elementary school that focuses on cancer prevention and the importance of wellness.
Physicians from Banner MD Anderson provide lectures on topics such as the dangers of smoking, skin cancer prevention and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. An exercise physiologist and registered dietitian conduct classes surrounding physical activity, nutrition, relaxation, gardening, tai chi and mindfulness.
“We planted a vegetable and herb garden with the students,” says Kristine Salmon, senior manager, The James M. Cox Foundation Center for Cancer Prevention and Integrative Oncology at Banner MD Anderson. “Following the 16-week class, we measure our success with two assessments.”
A lecture series is held regularly where people can learn about the latest research results regarding lifestyle practices that can modify cancer-causing factors and reduce chances of developing cancer.
Two additional initiatives include education and outreach to the Hispanic population, who are considered at high risk for developing ovarian and breast cancer.
“We realize there is a great need to provide support, including literature and educational materials to the underserved community,” Salmon said.